Climate change scenarios in the Verde Island Passage :

The Verde Island Passage (VIP) is a 1.14 million hectare special management area encompassing five provinces in the Philippines and bordering a channel 100 kilometers long. The South China Sea and Pacific Ocean waters converge in this passage, bringing in nutrients to sustain the diversity of marine life in this area. It is considered a top tourist destination and one of the richest fishing grounds of the Philippines.

Changes have already been observed in the marine environment of the Verde Island Passage that are attributable in part to the climate and which are expected to persist. Scientific guidance will be necessary to support policy and decision makers to meet the challenge of climate change adaptation for the VIP. Such is the purpose of the interdisciplinary Vulnerability Assessment in the Verde Island Passage.

The area is particularly vulnerable to climate change and rising sea surface temperatures. El Niño related SST anomalies are known to start in the northwest coast of Philippines near the VIP. Unpredictable weather and increasingly powerful storms threaten the area and the well-being of its residents. The Vulnerability Assessment of the Verde Island Passage (VIP) focused on identifying climate change impacts on marine biodiversity and the livelihoods of the communities that depend upon its goods and services.

The Verde Island Passage is now known as the center of the center of marine biodiversity --- a place with the greatest concentration of marine species in the Indo-Malay- Philippine Archipelago. A study by Carpenter and Springer (2005) highlighted the fact that sixty percent of all the species in this corridor overlapped in a 10 km2 area. Corals, sea turtles, giant groupers, whale sharks, marine mammals, giant clams and other species thriving in the area are at risk.

Potential climate change effects, such as rising ocean temperatures and sea level, can cause damage to coral reefs and shifts in plankton distribution and fish assemblages, altering this highly productive fishing ground. In addition, local anthropogenic impacts – such as high fishing pressure and pollution – have the potential to exacerbate such effects. Consequently, the dynamics of the region’s entire marine ecosystem are under threat.

In addition to investigating possible ecological effects of a changing climate on the ecosystem of the Verde Island Passage, this project seeks to inform stakeholders about the poorly understood phenomenon that is climate change and to build local government support to tackle possible impacts.

Aside from damaging local infrastructure and increasing the incidence of certain diseases, unpredictable weather brought about by climate change greatly affects the local communities. Livelihoods that depend on seasonality are disrupted and heavily impacted by the intensity and frequency of storms, shifts in fish populations and other marine species. This scenario is exacerbated by the fact that in certain areas problems related to fisheries are considered secondary to agriculture problems.

The vulnerability assessment was expected to yield an adaptation plan to tackle climate change impacts to the marine biodiversity of the Verde Island passage. The vulnerability assessment involved a number of activities and actions designed to provide critical information for adaptive management and conservation of natural resources. These initiatives included planning, development actions, data collection and revision of available scientific literature as well as conservation initiatives. Moreover, a “science-2-action” process was developed to a) communicate the potential effects of climate change in the VIP to local communities, government agencies and other stakeholders and b) develop a mutual communication between all actors on the potential effects of climate change in the VIP to elaborate recommendation for the adaptive management of the natural resources. All those activities led to the final “experts” workshop, which brought together experts on marine and terrestrial environments, the local fauna and flora, ocean and atmospheric climate scientists, social scientists as well as the government officials and local stakeholders.

The workshop provided recommendations to all stakeholders for immediate adaptation actions needed to address these impacts in terms of urban policy and coastal management plans. Those recommendations included the identification of priority research areas where funding and investigations should be focused.

Photo Credit: Sterling Zummbrun/CI